Survival Skills

I was stuck at the airport in Chicago last week when my flight to Portland was delayed, so I had plenty of opportunity to catch up with U.S. reporting of world news. I read coverage in the New York Times, the Washington Post, several local outlets and blogs, and then shut my laptop to watch the TV in the hall. It was set to CNN and the ridiculous Wolf Blitzer was talking about the Mid-East being on the "brink of war." (News flash: It's been on the brink of war for four decades, Wolfie.) He interviewed Daniel Ayalon, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the U.S., though, of course, there was no trace of any representatives of the Lebanese people or of the Palestinian people, those who, after all, are bearing the brunt of the latest escalation. As far as these media are concerned, these people don't exist.

One of my best friends from college is Lebanese, and came of age during the civil war in Lebanon. We've talked about those years many times, and I remember how excited she was at the prospect of going back after she finished her doctorate. At this point, I have yet to hear from her, and I don't know if she or her loved ones have been hurt. Another friend, Dutch-Moroccan writer Abdelkader Benali, had been spending the summer in Beirut, and thankfully he wrote in to say that he was fine--so far. (You can read some of his thoughts--in Dutch--here.) The U.S. military is now evacuating citizens from Beirut, another sign of how desperate the situation is.

How does one cope with all this? First, don't read the papers. Last week's headlines in many American papers were variations on the theme of "Israel enters Lebanon." One wonders: Did Israel knock on the door first? Or was the naval blockade, the bombing of Beirut International Airport, and the shelling of suburbs a 'hostess gift' on the part of Olmert?

Second, don't believe the labels. The easiest way to discount people is to call them certain names, names that will ensure that the discussion stops. In the '60s, it used to be communist, today it's terrorist. Mind you, the term here is not to be applied with its proper meaning, which is: A person or group who uses violence against civilians in an effort to coerce governments. When Palestinian groups attack soldiers, those actions are de facto known as terrorist. Yet when the Israeli army bombs Lebanese and Palestinians, murdering entire families, not one news report refers to the actions as being terrorist, despite the fact that the victims are civilians.

Third, don't discount the balance of power. It never ceases to amaze me, in discussions of the crisis, how the notion of power is absent. Out of the main players, willing or unwilling, who receives the greatest amount of financial aid? Who has the strongest army? The biggest air force? And yet, who is the Bush administration saying needs to be protected? No one seems to be concerned about who will defend ordinary civilians--on all sides--when leaders make such spectacular mistakes.

Fourth, step back and get some perspective. It didn't start with Gilad Shalit. It is not as if everything was going swimmingly, and along came the kidnapping, and then it went suddenly to hell. Things have been going to hell for years, and this is just another escalation, a direct result of world neglect and idle references to that phantom roadmap that everyone was supposed to follow.

Fifth, if you are American, write your congressperson and let her know what you think. Okay, you can stop laughing now. Listen, you're a citizen of the most powerful country on earth, and if you feel powerless and do nothing to help, then what should the rest of the world's citizens say? A great man once said: If you see an injustice, change it with your hand; if you're not capable of that, then with your tongue; and if you're not capable of that, then with your heart, and that is the weakest faith.